Oct 2, 2021

Hegel’s Dialectical Process

2 Min Read

What effect do ideas have on the way civilizations develop and history unfolds? In this brief clip, R.C. Sproul explores G.W.F. Hegel’s philosophy of “the dialectic,” which continues to influence how many people interpret the progress of history today.

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The way G.W.F. Hegel constructed his philosophy of history was through this process called “the dialectic.” The dialectic works like this: In all the different areas of human experience that we have—such as art, philosophy, theology, music, economics, physics, astronomy, whatever—we find a process taking place that involves tensions that are overcome on the plane of history. It goes like this. Somebody will come up with a thesis, like Parmenides: “Everything is being.” And that thesis invariable evokes an antithesis—that is, a theory that is in polar tension to it, such as we saw with Heraclitus and Parmenides. One said that everything is being; the other one said no, everything is becoming. Now, the progress of philosophical development is stifled. There is a blockade here, because you can’t get past this tension, until somebody comes along and resolves the problem by creating what is called a synthesis. We saw that, for example, when Plato sought to reconcile Parmenides and Heraclitus by creating his synthetic philosophy of the two realms, and so on. Then that synthesis becomes the new thesis, and invariably that thesis provokes what? Another antithesis, such as we saw with Aristotle challenging Plato. Now, then what happens is that this creates a roadblock for a certain period of time, until somebody else comes along and takes ideas from both of these sides, works them out together, and creates another synthesis. Now, of course what happens with that synthesis is that that new paradigm, or that new system, or that new philosophical viewpoint, becomes the basis for a new thesis. What does that do? It provokes what, Roger? What would you guess? Another what? Antithesis. That’s right; you got it. And, as you can see, I’m running out of blackboard space here, but this then is resolved in another synthesis, and we can see this pattern go on and on and on. Well, it is much more complicated than this simple illustration that I’ve just given to you here with respect to philosophy. But you also have the relationship between religion, for example, and art. And there’s a tension there, which is then resolved in philosophy. Then you have conflict between philosophy and science, which is then resolved in political theory, and so on. So, you have a whole grid of these dialectics working themselves out. What Hegel is looking for in the process of history is what he called the “aufgehoben.” Now, that's just a fancy German word for something’s being elevated to the next level. You rise above the current dilemma into the next stage of development, where you transcend the current difficulty and resolve it into a new thesis. That’s the experience—the synthesis is the experience of the “aufgehoben.”